Outside the stadium on the grandstand court in Rock Creek Park, one of the best matches of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic was taking place. At first, only a couple of hundred were on hand to see 2010 finalist and No. 7 seed Marcos Baghdatis face Somdev Devvarman.
Devvarman is from India, but he's a familiar face at this tournament and even more importantly was a star at Virginia from 2005 to 2008. Still, a majority of the crowd supported Baghdatis.
Yet as more fans piled in, they got behind Devvarman — the underdog whose time in Rock Creek Park came to a tough end with a 6-2, 0-6, 7-5 loss Thursday.
"It was just a dogfight," Devvarman said. "It could've gone either way, but I think he just played better than me at the end, and that's why he won the match."
Even in defeat, however, Devvarman is continuing to build not only a following but momentum in his game on the ATP tour.
It's arguable that Devvarman should be more of a fan favorite in the District because, as his friend and former American University player Juan Jaysingh put it, "this is almost like his hometown now."
"He tries very hard. He puts it on the line, competes day in and day out, and he's a really nice, sophisticated guy," Jaysingh said. "He's able to connect with a lot of people - both who play and who don't play tennis."
Devvarman ensured that he'd have a place in UVa. sports history, winning back-to-back national championships - just the fourth player in the past 50 years to do that. After going 44-1 in '08 en route to his second title, the school retired his jersey. Only recently did he move to Austin, Texas, after residing in Charlottesville.
Devvarman is intimately familiar with this event, given that this is his sixth time playing here and he reached the quarterfinals in 2008.
"Whenever I'm here, I have a lot of friends come out here. Half of my classmates live in Georgetown, so it's fun for me to have them come out and maybe catch up with them later in the week," he said. "I really enjoy playing over here, and it's fun to see my old coaches and teammates."
The 26-year-old didn't take any solace in pushing Baghdatis to the edge in this one, given that he had plenty of opportunities to take command. As Jaysingh put it, "he should've won this match."
But therein lie more chances for Devvarman to improve. When he skied shots way out of play against Baghdatis, Devvarman would often make a motion of the right shot. He's on the older edge of up-and-coming players, but Devvarman is 65th in the world and keeps climbing.
His first serve has become stronger over the years, but Devvarman is concentrating on another aspect of his game.
"If I can just use my athleticism to become a little bit more aggressive, I think that'll help me a lot in the future," he said.
The field could've opened up for Devvarman if he managed to pull off the upset. No. 12 seed Thomaz Bellucci knocked off former No. 2 player in the world Tommy Haas 7-6(7-3), 3-6, 6-3, and Grigor Dimitrov moved on when No. 10 seed Michael Llodra retired. Also, top seed Gael Monfils breezed by Ryan Sweeting 6-3, 7-6(7-3); No. 6 Janko Tipsarevic beat Michael Barrer 6-3, 6-4; No. 15 seed Dmitry Tursunov beat Flavio Cipolla 6-1, 6-4 and Donald Young advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Michael Russell.
While Devvarman clearly was frustrated with his missed opportunities, he said there were a lot of positives developing for him in advance of the U.S. Open later this month.
"I'm striking the ball pretty well, I'm competing well, serving well," he said. "I'm not going to be an easy guy to beat in the next few tournaments and if I play well, I'm going to give myself plenty of chances to win some matches."
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